Nephi’s iron rod may not be what you think it is.

This post might be a little oddly timed because we’re not doing the Book of Mormon Sunday School curriculum this year. But it’s a passage that we frequently refer to in talks and lessons, in my experience, and it’s on my mind lately because I’ve heard people invoke the old iron rod / liahona dichotomy. I confess I don’t like that distinction, because I think it distorts the meaning of the iron rod to place it in contrast with the liahona. This post, written as a sort of dialogue with myself, explains why.

rod-of-iron

I. The Iron Rod in Nephi’s Vision

Thesis: The iron rod from Nephi’s vision of his father’s vision of the tree of life does not represent the scriptures.

But wait! That can’t be right. Nephi himself says “I beheld that the rod of iron, which my father had seen, was the word of God” (1 Nephi 11:25). Isn’t the “word of God” the scriptures? Didn’t Joseph Smith say “we believe the Bible to be the word of God…we also believe the Book of Mormon to be the word of God? (Article of Faith #8).

Well, sure he did. But the bible and the Book of Mormon did not exist in Nephi’s time. If you believe that Joseph Smith was the author of the Book of Mormon, then it makes sense to read the phrase “word of God” as he, a nineteenth-century American would have used it, to mean the bible. But the Book of Mormon presents itself as an ancient history, and if we take it on its own terms, we can’t uncritically take every phrase as used in nineteenth century America.

But the Book of Mormon was translated by a nineteenth century American for a nineteenth century American audience. Doesn’t that mean that we have to read it in the nineteenth century American context to understand it?

Yes, but not uncritically so. The Book of Mormon as a translation comes out of nineteenth century America, but it presents itself as connected to the Bible. The books of Nephi especially present themselves as written by a 5th century B.C. Jew who was deeply invested in the prophecies of the old testament, especially the prophecies of Isaiah, and who wrote in the world of the late old testament. So reading “the word of god” as a nineteenth century American may have read it at face value might tell us something about how the Book of Mormon may have been received when it was published, but it doesn’t necessarily tell us how Nephi used that phrase (or whatever phrase he used that was translated as that phrase). If we take the Book of Mormon’s claim at face value that it is an ancient text, and that Nephi was a 5th century B.C. Jew, then we should read the phrase “word of God” as a 5th Century B.C. Jew would have understood it. And a 5th century B.C. Jew would not have used it to mean the bible as we know it, because the bible as we know it did not even exist.

So what would a 5th Century B.C. Jew have understood the “word of God” to mean? This is a little tricky because all we have to go on is the English translation of the Book of Mormon, and a 5th Century B.C. Jew obviously would not have ever heard that English phrase. But I think, given that the Book of Mormon deliberately imitates the language of the King James translation, it is not unreasonable to look to the King James old testament to see how that phrase is used there.

And we actually have some pretty good clues in the prophecy of Jeremiah, whom the Book of Mormon itself claims as a contemporary of Nephi’s father, Lehi. The phrase “word of the Lord” shows up a lot in Jeremiah, and always in the same formula: “the word of the Lord came unto Jeremiah, saying…” followed by a description of the revelation that Jeremiah received (see Jeremiah 1:11, 13; 13:3, 8; 16:1; 18:5; 24:4; 28:12; 32:26; 33:19, 23; 34:12; 35:12; 39:15; 42:7; 43:8). And Jeremiah is not exactly unique. The same formula is found throughout the old testament. Reading Nephi’s reference to the “word of God” as the explanation of the iron rod also echoes other old testament images where God’s voice is described as a “rod” (Isaiah 11:4; Micah 6:9).

Sure, but that was back then, when most people were illiterate and there were no printing presses. Now we have the technology to put the written words of the prophets directly into people’s hands, so to us, the word of the lord is the written word, right?

Well, that’s certainly what nineteenth-century America thought. And I suspect that that cessationism was behind the nineteenth century American (mis)reading of the old testament phrase “word of the Lord” to mean primarily (or maybe even exclusively) the written word rather than the spirit of revelation. But refuting cessationism is one of the major goals of the Book of Mormon. It’s not only one of the major explicit messages of it’s text (see Mormon 9); it’s also the message of the fact that it exists and the story of it’s being discovered and translated.

But does this really matter? Since the scriptures are given by revelation should we even draw a distinction between them and direct revelation?

Well, a nineteenth century reader, or a current reader of the Book of Mormon can certainly read the text to find application to our own lives in ways that it may not have applied in it’s original context. And those creative (mis)applications can yield valuable insights, just as the new testament’s frequent recontextualization of old testament texts (like, basically all of Matthew’s gospel). In other words, the way Christianity reads the old testament is not necessarily tied to the original meaning of the old testament. In that light, we can read “the word of God” to include the written word even though it may not have meant that to Nephi.

But if we want to understand what Nephi meant, we should not allow our re-application of Nephi’s words to completely replace our best efforts to understand how a person such as Nephi himself would have used those words, without the additional gloss of our modern assumptions.

Besides, in keeping with the Book of Mormon’s anticessationist message, we should be aware of the problems with the primacy of the written word. As Joseph Smith observed, the human capacity for rationalization is vast enough to frustrate attempts to resolve a theological matter relying on text alone.

Okay, so let’s say the “word of God” means primarily the spirit of revelation, not the written word. Does that change how we read Nephi’s vision?

I think it does, in a subtle way. Nephi describes the rod of iron as a guide alongside a path that leads to the tree of life. And he talks about those who start in the path toward the tree but then fall away for one reason or another, but he says that those who hold fast to the iron rod are the ones that make it to the tree. If holding fast to the rod of iron means reading scriptures every day, that’s one thing. But if it means receiving the Holy Ghost–the spirit of revelation–and keeping it, that’s a different thing. Reading scriptures may be an important way to help us receive and keep the Holy Ghost, but it is not an end itself. It’s the difference between on the one hand looking to the good things we’re counseled to do as things we must do in order to deserve eternal life, and on the other hand looking through them to grace and the atonement, putting our faith and trust in Jesus alone, and doing those good things as a way to keep ourselves in the path of discipleship.

II. Nephi’s Later Use of the Imagery of His Vision

This way of reading the iron rod, as a symbol specifically of the Holy Ghost, rather than primarily of the scriptures, is consistent with the way Nephi himself seems to reuse the imagery of his vision later in his life. In discussing baptism Nephi returns to the image of a path that leads to eternal life, and he describes baptism as the gate by which a person enters that path (2 Nephi 31:17-20). This sounds like the vision of the tree of life: you have a path, and you have eternal life at the end of the path, and it is God’s children’s lot to try to walk that path. Except the rod of iron appears to be missing from this image.

But maybe it isn’t missing after all. Nephi specifically talks about receiving the Holy Ghost as the thing that happens once a person gets inside this gate and finds himself in this path (3 Nephi 31:18). He then gets even more specific, saying that receiving the Holy Ghost brings “the words of Christ” (3 Nephi 32:2-3). Just as the iron rod was “the word of God” that a person must hold fast to travel the path to eternal life, the Holy Ghost is the “words of Christ” that a person must “press forward feasting upon” to travel the path to eternal life.

In this I see a progression, or a transition, as Nephi becomes a Christian. The books of Nephi are in many ways the story of Nephi’s conversion. He starts off pretty much as a typical old testament Isrealite, but then he has this vision of the tree of life, where he sees the birth, life, and death of Christ, and by the end of 2 Nephi he’s a full-fledged baptism-preaching Christian. And after Nephi is converted, the somewhat mystical, very old-testament image of a rod of iron which Nephi glosses as the “word of God,” transitions into a full-fledged explicit reference to the very new-testament, trinitarian [1] Holy Spirit, which Nephi explicitly names as the source of the “words of Christ.”

By connecting the iron rod to the reception of the Holy Ghost through personal conversion, repentance, and baptism, Nephi does something else. Not only does he make the iron rod the spirit of revelation, he makes it personal revelation. The “word of God” or the “word of the Lord” could plausibly describe institutional revelation to prophets as well as personal revelation. But by connecting it to personal conversion, Nephi brings it down to the level of personal revelation.

There’s of course nothing wrong with studying the scriptures or the words of prophets that aren’t canonized. That’s a very good thing to do. But when we talk about Nephi’s iron rod we should be thinking of receiving the Holy Ghost more than of reading books of scripture or conference talks. Less Sunday School and more Pentecost. Less study and more repentance. Less going to seminary and more being born again.

This is why I’ve never really liked the “iron rod Mormon” vs. “Liahona Mormon” thing. The iron rod is not supposed to contrast with the Liahona; they are two ways of representing the same thing: the spirit of revelation given directly to the believer when the believer repents and is born again and receives the Holy Ghost.


[1] I don’t mean “trinitarian” in the sense of adopting the creedal doctrine of the Trinity as it was defined in the councils of the early Christian church. I mean that Nephi speaks of the Spirit not just as the spirit of Jehovah, but as one of three persons of the godhead with the Father and the Son.

 

Comments

  1. I love this. It dovetails nicely with some of Joseph Spencer’s writing on Nephi, which I like.

  2. Thanks, Abu!

  3. I wonder why iron, when Nephi knows of steel? Are 5th c. BCE smelting processes not as good for steel as they are for iron?

    I’ve always considered the use of the “word of God” to related to John 1:1, making it a reference to Christ Himself. Christ who is solid as iron, knows The Way, has His arm outstretched whenever you let go, is unaffected by any mists of darkness, and is there specifically to guide each of us into the presence of God, no matter where we are or what distance we are away from it. Our paths may be wildly different; we may even think the rod is wrong in the direction it’s going, but we know that it will lead us all the way home.

    I think “iron rod mormon”, “Liahona mormon”, “cafeteria mormon”, “new order mormon”, “third way mormon”, etc. are epithets used to mock us for our questions, doubts, and varied approaches to being members of the Church. We occasionally apply them to ourselves to try and thread the needle on belonging and not wanting to be so mocked, but we need to pay them no heed, keep hold of the rod, and press forward where the rod will lead us.

    Being a Church and Temple attending, Gospel believing, somewhat liberal, transgender woman, I know my path is different from any other, even different from many who are often grouped with me. I also know that if I hold fast to Christ I will make it home to where it takes nothing more than reaching up to taste of the love of my Heavenly Parents.

  4. I kind of like the idea that Christ is both the fruit of the tree and the rod leading to the tree, Frank. He is the reward that awaits us, but he’s also there with us all along.

  5. If we provisionally grant that the rod of iron symbolizes the written word of God, then we may observe that Jesus himself held to the rod of iron when he was left to be tempted by the devil (Matthew 4:1-11) and passed through the mists of darkness (1 Nephi 12:17) as he walked the strait and narrow path that leads to eternal life, giving us an example to follow (2 Nephi 31:9).

  6. I thought it was broadly understood that word of God literally meant word of God and not just the scriptures. Sometimes people limit it somewhat to the gospel rather than the broader word. It seems to me the bigger debate is whether the rod is more akin to a banister or a short, hand held rod, that is leading them. i.e. the rod and staff of Psalm 23. Even for a 19th century context here, the likely place to look is Rev 12:5. “And she brought forth a man child, who was to rule all nations with a rod of iron: and her child was caught up unto God, and to his throne.”

  7. Kevin Barney says:

    I found it interesting (based on a search) that “the word of the Lord” occurs a staggering 258 times in the KJV Bible (usually something like debar-YHWH in the OT and ho logos tou kuriou in the NT).

  8. Clark, I think it is generally understood by church members to mean the word of God generally, but in my experience, it seems to be used mostly to refer to the importance of reading scriptures, and sometimes to reading the words of living prophets. Rarely, comparatively, have I seen these scriptures used to speak of the importance of personal revelation. I am suggesting that the way “word of the Lord” is used in the Old Testament, combined with the way Nephi uses the imagery of his vision in the last chapters of his book, suggests that personal revelation, obtained through conversion and being born again, is at least the primary intended meaning, and probably the exclusive intended meaning.

    That doesn’t mean that we can’t apply Nephi’s words also to institutional revelation or to scriptural canon, but those are not, I believe, what Nephi meant.

  9. Interesting stuff, JKC. I like it.

  10. “This is why I’ve never really liked the “iron rod Mormon” vs. “Liahona Mormon” thing. The iron rod is not supposed to contrast with the Liahona; they are two ways of representing the same thing: the spirit of revelation given directly to the believer when the believer repents and is born again and receives the Holy Ghost.”

    Amen! Really great post! Thank you!

  11. Although the parallels between Lehis’s/Nephi’s vision and his sermon in 2 Nephi 31 are interesting, I see an important distinction. The paths are not the same. Whereas the end of the path in 2 Nephi 31 may be eternal life (see verse 18), the end of the path in Lehi’s/Nephi’s vision is not. In the vision, the path is short (1 Nephi 8:14) and leads to experiencing the love of God. However, many that experienced the fruit still left, and presumably did not obtain eternal life despite acheiving the end of the path.

    I think Nephi is describing two different, albeit related, journeys.

  12. Dr Cocoa, thanks for the comment. I think the vision of the tree is not just a momentary experience of the love of god, but is supposed to represent actually tasting salvation. The fact that some fall away after their conversion is only a reflection of the fact that “there is a possibility that man may fall from grace and depart from the living God” as Joseph Smith would later put it in the articles and covenants of the church. We have a habit in the church of thinking of eternal life as something we are given or earn far far in the future, after death, but the Book of Mormon often seems to treat eternal life as something we are given in this life at the moment of conversion, though there is a possibility that we can fall from grace.

    That said, I agree with you that Nephi is not, in his later sermon, just repeating his vision. He’s recycling and reusing the imagery of the vision in really interesting ways, that I think reflect his own conversion.

  13. JKC, I think though in terms of the brethren, personal revelation as part of the word of God in the rod of iron is fairly regularly pushed. Certainly it is now as that link for the youth shows.

    The point about personal revelation and the Old Testament gets a bit trickier for various reasons. Contextually in the Book of Mormon you have a strong skeptical stance to the text in 1 Nephi 13. Historically of course you have the Deuteronomist and Priestly traditions centralizing the religion and pushing against a more decentralized model. You see that in how they condemn the high places and move sacrifice to only being done in the temple. (With some exceptions made in interesting ways for the temple of Onias) Yet Nephi and Lehi make sacrifice in a fashion that’s more akin to Genesis, clearly do it independent of the priests in Jerusalem or the temple, and if Don Bradley’s work on the 116 pages is to believed even made a portable tabernacle ala Moses. That suggests we should be careful reading the Book of Mormon purely in terms of the received Old Testament which is the conclusion of this priestly and Deuteronomist centralization after the exile, often expunging or changing problematic texts.

    Within the Book of Mormon proper though, personal revelation seems to get emphasized quite a bit. Even in the Old Testament that survived the redactions, prophets seem to arise from a personal call independent of the centralized authority, pointing to personal revelation. More importantly at the time of Nephi, the word of god he follows isn’t just the brass plates as the very vision of the iron rod demonstrates.

  14. I should add though that I fully agree that the Liahona and Iron Rod opposition makes zero sense. They’re symbolic of the same thing IMO. Especially if, as I suggested, the Iron Rod isn’t a banister along a cliff but a physical rod/staff we grasp to be led by.

  15. Nice.
    I think the Iron Rod regardless of referent is not terribly useful to us on its own or in some kind of binary labeling system. Why?
    The unambiguously certain Iron Rod existed only in the heightened and narrowed framework of a dream-state. The actual day-to-day guidance of the Nephite journey was the Liahona, changing and fallible (in the sense that it sometimes failed to respond), which led them to places unknown.

  16. I like that a lot, Ben. The liahona as the boots-on-the-ground, real-world manifestation of the idea expressed through the revelatory image of the rod of iron.

  17. Literary metaphors and even words themselves can be understood in multiple ways. Reading God’s recorded word doesn’t replace following spiritual promptings. But in my habit if looking at multiple meanings of words, I applied Nephi’s dream to the common saying “Spare the rod and spoil the child.” My kids manhandled their paperback copies of the scriptures in the process of learning to read them, but I was more concerned about the state of the children than the state of the books.

  18. I find that the value of the Liahona vs. Iron Rod metaphor is not in helping understand the original intent of Nephi. I find that the metaphor is mostly useful to describe competing mindsets within the modern church where 1) doing as your told is the path of safety and security and where 2) feeling one’s way through challenges and testing contradictions provides needed growth.

  19. As a missionary, I developed a theory that the “word of God” in this context was the Law with its accompanying justice and mercy. In 1 Ne. 15:29-30 the justice of God is both an awful gulf and a flaming fire that separates the wicked from the righteous and the “Love of God”. In Alma 42:22-23 Law separates individuals with repentance, mercy and salvation on one side and “justice” and punishment on the other. Therefore the Law of the Gospel (Word of God) provides guidance, protection, and safety to those that follow it (Iron Rod) – but condemnation to those that do not. Like I said – it is a theory. ;-)

  20. I appreciate the cross referencing to try and gain a deeper understanding of the meaning of the scripture, and anything that promotes coming to a deeper personal relationship with the Spirit and obtaining personal revelation I like and I think is commendable.

    At the same time I think the analysis is too shallow, which I think unfortunately led to premature and ultimately wrong conclusions about the actual symbolism.

    In trying to analyze how the symbolism in the two teachings overlap (presuming that they do indeed overlap), I think it is very understandable for example to imagine that entrance into the gate might equate with entrance on the path in the tree of life vision, given that they are both entrances.

    Jesus likewise speaks of this entrance in a more obvious way when trying to map to the process described in 2 Nephi 31/32. That is – in order to enter into the kingdom of God, a man must be born again, or in other words he must be born of water and of the spirit.

    If this gate is entrance into the Kingdom of God, would we expect when we enter the gate into God’s Kingdom to be filled with mists of darkness and the darts of the adversary? It doesn’t feel right to me.

    Furthermore, when a person is born of the spirit, or of fire and the Holy Ghost, do we expect the mind to be wading in darkness? I think a more appropriate visual is light and clarity in exact contrast to the midst of darkness and treacherousness found along this path. I think the visual might more appropriately look something like the presence of the Tree of Life itself.

    I think a more appropriate parallel is found in 1 Nephi 15:28–30 which similarly notes that the gulf keeping the wicked from accessing this area was like the “brightness of a flaming fire”— which also seems to be reminiscent of the “flaming sword” set to guard the way to the tree of life. You might even call it a gate, that can only be reached and entered through a particular path.

    Another very helpful cross reference is Alma 32, which more clearly and easily maps and parallels the process of the vision of the tree of life, and I think this will give us strong hints to the intended symbolism. For we also see a process that begins with hearing the word of God, experimenting or acting in faith upon that word, which process ultimately leads to the growth of the tree of life and ends with the person able to partake of the fruit of this tree.

    Joseph Smith seems to be speaking of this same process when he stated in 1839 “Faith comes by hearing the word of God, through the testimony of the servants of God.” – which seems to be an explanation of Romans 10:17 as well (“So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God”).

    While you are correct that these are not referring to the written word specifically, the ‘word of God’ in an ancient context is almost always in reference to teachings as given and revealed through God’s prophets, and ultimately in Christ as the embodiment of that word/truth/logos.

    Importantly, acting on faith in these words, experimenting upon them, and testing them leads to the gate where one can enjoy the fire of the Holy Ghost and the fruits of personal revelation – clearly the higher goal that we seek to obtain than to remain standing still holding onto the iron rod in the mist of darkness forever. The end goal is not to merely to hold onto the iron rod.

    But the importance of the word and rod as revealed through God’s servants is crucial and necessary in order to find our way to that tree, and that is an essential truth that cannot be dispensed with. And I think misunderstanding that can have seriously dire consequences. (Hence my spending time to make this long comment.)

    For if we toss out the rod while yet children, unanchored we will wonder into forbidden paths, and not because of the incorrectness of that rod or the tender root as it grows from the initial seed, but because it was not nourished, a person gave up on the experimentation prematurely.

    You are also correct that the Liahona teaches this same message, when we follow the words and commandments as revealed through God’s servants we shall find our promised land and enjoy the fruits of our faithfulness having entered the gate into God’s Kingdom, enjoying his Spirit and presence for ourselves, no longer as children, but as mature spiritual beings. Dispense with those revealed commandments before the promise land is reached, the external tools that God has granted to aid you in your foundational growth will be of no use, and you shall likewise be liable to and likely wonder into forbidden paths. The word of God as revealed through His servants the prophets is indispensable in this process, and that we can all mature unto fire and the Holy Ghost as our constant companion enjoying the fruits of personal revelation because of the love of God that has grown within us is most definitely the goal we seek.

    My greatest love to you JKC, I mean nothing ill in offering this perspective, I only hope it can add to your analysis even if there are parts where I might be in error.

  21. I would add ordinances and covenants. The companionship of the Holy Ghost which is needed for personal revelation is a gift for making covenants through the ordinance of baptism. It is a covenant making and covenant keeping journey that will lead us to Christ and the blessings of the Atonement. The teachings of the prophets, consistent scripture study, personal revelation because of the companionship of the Holy Ghost, the teachings found in the temple all count as the word of God.

  22. I don’t remember ever hearing that the word of God represented by the iron rod was the scriptures. It sounds like something the closed-canon “Bible is the complete, final, perfect Word of God” friends would have come up with, as modified slightly by adding the rest of our canon to “the Bible.”

  23. Steve LHJ, I feel like you may have misunderstood the post, but I’m not sure what it is that you think I was saying. The one point I think I can respond to, though, is your suggestion that it “doesn’t feel right” that entrance into the kingdom of god would be followed by passing through mists of darkness. All I can say is I don’t believe that membership in the church or even receiving the gift of the holy ghost makes us immune from the temptations and trials of the world. I see the kingdom of god as the path that conducts us safely through those mists.

  24. Amy, yeah, ordinances are certainly important. In Nephi, receiving the Holy Ghost is something that happens after baptism. And in the modern church, confirmation is the means we enjoy of receiving the laying on of hands for the gift of the holy ghost. So when I say “the spirit of revelation given directly to the believer when the believer repents and is born again and receives the Holy Ghost,” I’m including the ordinances of baptism and confirmation in that process of being born again.

    But I also think it’s important to recognize that mere act of laying on hands in confirmation is not necessarily an assurance that a person has the gift of the holy ghost (though we often talk about it like it is). The text of the ordinance doesn’t say “now you have the holy ghost,” it’s an imperative to receive it. It’s an instruction, or better yet, a calling, to continue to exercise faith and become converted until we receive the promised gift.

    The ordinances of the temple could be viewed as further means to receive that which we are called during the ordinance of confirmation to receive.

    And yes, all the those things can be called the word of god in some sense, and like I said, there’s nothing wrong with applying Nephi’s vision beyond it’s original context to include those things. My only point is that Nephi’s image of a rod of iron is primarily one of receiving the holy ghost.

  25. If I have misunderstood, could you point out in what way? I did my best to understand your meaning.

    My understanding is that what you are concluding is that the iron rod as the word of God is not a representation of the scriptures (which I agree does not exclusively mean so), and furthermore you think it is a mistaken notion as to believe it is the word of God through the prophets (“or the words of prophets that aren’t canonized”). Rather you believe the iron rod is a representation of the Holy Ghost and personal revelation. Is that a fair re-characterization?

    Like I said, I like the emphasis on personal revelation, I think that’s a great message, and I think these visions/parables/teachings conclude that same thing. At the same time, in reference to the vision of the tree of life I think you’ve actually misinterpreted the symbolism and concluded the exact opposite of the intended meaning. That is I believe the iron rod or the word of God is specifically in reference to the word of God as revealed through his servants the prophets. And in a day and particularly in this community where we find many temperamentally liberal members of the church (which is great, we need the full range), we often find a de-emphasis on the necessity of authority and the prophets. I fear reinterpreting the scriptures to remove the intended teaching of the necessity of God’s word through His prophets to such a community panders to the worst in liberal leaning mindset and could have detrimental effects. For that reason I think it is important to call out.

    I don’t think your intentions are bad, but I do think you were lazy in your analysis and conclusions, and it seems again you have simply brushed off the other evidence I presented rather than engage with the material seriously. You have no obligation to take other material seriously, or to believe or interpret scripture in any particular way, I am all for your freedom to do whatever you want. But if you are going to be lazy with your words and engagement at the possible detriment of other people in a somewhat influential public space, I think it merits pushback.

    I wish we could speak in person, so you could know my tone and heart. I have no desire to be condemnatory which I fear my words could be construed that way, but I do think you are mistaken, and in a way that could have real world significant implications.

    Aside from the evidence I previously put forth, consider what Nephi teaches in 2 Nephi 31/32 after the reception of the Holy Ghost. After one has received the Holy Ghost he is now able to *speak* the word of Christ, speak with tongue of angels. Consider this in contrast to the scriptures that speak of the beginning of faith as *hearing* the words of Christ. If you are able to speak the words of Christ your words can become the iron rod for another hearer in need in the mists of darkness of this world. And consider the other effect or injunction that Nephi gives after one has received the Holy Ghost – they are now able to *feast* upon the words of Christ. This seems to most clearly parallel the eating of the fruit, something of a more internalized process than the external iron rod that is used as a tool to get to the feast.

    Yes, this whole process is something we repeat, even after entering the Kingdom of God we are not always in the presence of the tree and endure other mists of darkness, and in these times we again need the iron rod in our further development upon new principles. Removing the absolute necessity of words of God as revealed through his servants that we all need in such times that we can exercise further faith and repentance to get out of the mists and trials and return to the love of God, I feel is a crucial mistake, one that would lead to wondering into forbidden paths. Maybe I am wrong, but I hope you can see my perspective.

  26. Yes, Steve LHJ, if you think I’m saying that prophets aren’t essential, you’ve misunderstood.

  27. I have to agree with Steve. The tone of the post seemed to promote personal revelation over the prophet’s voice.

  28. Respectfully, Barb, that’s not at all my point. Sorry if that wasn’t clear enough.

  29. No, I didn’t say or think that you said, “the prophets aren’t essential”. I am saying that as I understand you, you have interpreted the iron rod in the vision of the tree of life to mean the Holy Ghost and personal revelation, as opposed to the word of God as revealed through His prophets which I believe is actually the intended meaning. I think it is a mistake, and a potentially detrimental one for the reasons I listed.

  30. Steve, LJH, when I read this: “removing the absolute necessity of words of God as revealed through his servants that we all need in such times that we can exercise further faith and repentance to get out of the mists and trials and return to the love of God, I feel is a crucial mistake, one that would lead to wondering into forbidden paths,” I understood you to be saying that you read my post as suggesting that prophets aren’t necessary. I didn’t say that and I don’t believe that.

    We may respectfully disagree about the primary meaning of the symbolism of Nephi’s vision. That’s okay.

  31. Mr. Schmidt says:

    I understood JKC’s OP to be inclusive of the word of God revealed through prophets. Better yet, it was inclusive of the personal revelation that we all can and should receive when seeking to know for ourselves whether those things they say “are not true” like Moroni enjoined us to do all those years ago.

    “[W]ould God that all the Lord’s people were prophets, and that the Lord would put his spirit upon them!” In that way, like Elder Maxwell taught, God may enlarge the perspective of the many (including me) to better appreciate the perspective of the few (the prophets).

  32. I like this post! It really matches well with a post I read yesterday about the theorem of our religion over at modern Mormon men .

  33. nobody, really says:

    When answering questions from critics, never ever concede the point that “The Bible is the Word of God”.

    The Bible is a *record* of the Word of God. The Word of God can come from other places – the Bible is just one record of how God dealt with a certain group of people. When we establish that it is just a record, there can be imperfections and problems with the record itself, rather than anybody disagreeing with God. This way, when God appears in wrath and glory and delivers the message to every people that multi-level-marketing is a sin worse than armed robbery but not quite as bad as letting your children use Facebook, they are obligated to follow this as the Word of God, and not just claim that “it wasn’t in my Bible, therefore, I can still sell soap and toothpaste and bad leggings to my downline.”

  34. Steve LHJ, just to repost the link from lds.org but I don’t think the Church agrees with your interpretation of the rod. Nor do I think it works in the context of Nephi unless you remember that Joseph said we all should be prophets.

    https://www.lds.org/youth/article/how-to-receive-gods-word?lang=eng

    “The word of God contains three very strong elements that intertwine and sustain one another to form an immovable rod” “The scriptures, or the words of the ancient prophets.” “Personal revelation and inspiration that comes to us through the Holy Ghost” “The words of the living prophets”

    This is the old polular stool metaphor of revelation. Three legs and if you exclude one the stool tips over. The rod or word of God is the stool.

  35. Yes, I read it when you linked to it before as well. I think the essence of what is taught there is totally correct. And for simplicity sake I have been arguing here for the interpretation of the Word of God as revealed through His prophets (which covers 2 of the 3 in the article), but I have alluded to agreeing with your point as well – that when we should receive the Holy Ghost, we shall ourselves be able to speak with the tongue of angels, or the speak the words of Christ, which could very well then be an Iron Rod for another, or a seed that they might experiment upon and likewise grow on the same principle.

    To me it seems the scriptures are suggesting that the initial seed starts as an idea, often a shared word by someone who is speaking forth truth (the specific role of prophet, which doesn’t exclude others from acting in the same capacity), and I agree it can also come from a prompting that takes the things you have encountered in your external environment and spurs a new thought or consideration for example. The way I see it, at this stage it is not yet testimony though, it does not have root in you, it is not yet comprehended by the soul, as it is still very much external I think it would be a mistake to then equate this state with the baptism of fire. But by experimenting upon the word in the face of opposition, uncertainty, and/or darkness the seed grows until it can pierce through to the light even unto a tree bearing the full fruits of revelation on that principle, the love of God for that word or truth now comprehended and organized within the soul. From a symbolic perspective I see this stage and being more compatible with having entered into the gate with light, revelation, and the fire of the Holy Ghost.

  36. a 21st century adopted Jew says:

    You repeatedly refer to Nephi as a “5th century B.C. Jew”; he was actually a 6th century BC Jew, unless he lived an exceptionally long life: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/5th_century_BC .
    The Gregorian convention of (seemingly) numbering the century based on the 100 years preceding it, applies to CE dates but not BCE ones. I’m just saying.

  37. Okay.

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